As part of the Entangled TEEN YA Series and Chill promotion, I'm writing a series of five blog posts about my experiences writing a series. LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES (LAOUV) and LIFE AFTER JULIET (LAJ) are each stand-alone novels, but they are companions in that they are set in the same fictional world and the stories revolve around a characters that show up in both of the novels.
I am an accidental serial novelist. I never meant to write anything else in the LAOUV universe, but
Writing LOVE AND OTHER UNKNOWN VARIABLES became a labor of love, a small way of honoring the memory of my Em who had passed from ovarian cancer. It was a way for me to work through all the immediate emotions of death and loss.
I met Em in the summer of 1985 when my family first moved to a tight-knit southern town in Eastern North Carolina. We became fast friends, sharing a love of 60s music and bad television—oh, and Grease. We knew ALL the words and choreography to Grease and would take turns being Pink Ladies or T-birds as we reenacted our favorite parts.
Like me Em had a younger sister, and like all good big sisters, we spent lots of time figuring out ways to properly torture them. One Easter we volunteered to fill the plastic eggs with jellybeans (because we were always being “helpful” like that). We sorted out all the black jellybeans and put them in all the pink eggs. Pink was our sisters’ favorite color, so we knew they’d dive for those eggs first (we also knew our parents were tired of hiding Easter Eggs, and when are you girls ever going to grow out of this, and really kids we’re just here for the food and drinks, so…eggs were never hidden so much as just laying around the yard).
It was worth losing our dessert that night to watch our sisters whine over their payload of disgusting black jellybeans!
The thing is I have hundreds of silly stories about Em like that. And when she passed away, we all spent a lot of time together sharing all those stories. But as time went on, and we all were forced back into our real lives, it became more difficult to find that connection, to revel in the delight and comfort of our old stories. My new friends were sympathetic, and always willing to listen, but they never had any Em stories to reciprocate, and after a while, I just stopped telling them, tucking them away like the program from her funeral.
When I finished writing LAOUV I felt good about the story I had told. I felt like Em would like it. I felt like I was done.
But when my editor, Heather Howland, asked, “What happens to Becca?” I started to wonder the same. What would happen to a girl like Becca Hanson? A girl who, until meeting Charlotte, never felt like she was missing out on anything in the real world while she lived in the pages of her books. And what would happen to a girl like Becca once her older brother and his friends left for college? Who would she share stories and memories with?
LIFE AFTER JULIET became a labor of love for myself. It was my way of understanding what itmeans to live day to day, month to month, and year to year with grief. It has been eight years since Em passed—I have to count the years every time because it still feels like it was just last week that I gave her a hug and said I’d stop back by in two days to see her again. It feels like just yesterday that the early morning call came to tell me that two days was one day too late for a final goodbye. And while I don’t cry every day anymore, and I’m not walking with shoes full of leaden regret anymore, I still miss my Em every single day.
Writing Becca's story in LAJ helped me accept that grief is a part of who I am now. And that’s okay because I can be strong, just like my Em. I can carry that grief and still be happy, loved, and content with the life I’m left here to live. And my life is better for having “met” my Charlie, my Charlotte, and my Becca through writing not one but two stories that honor both Em and all those who grieve.
Don't forget to check out the other amazing blogs and fun stuff going on during the Entangled TEEN YA Series and Chill promotion. And here's another chance to enter the giveaway for the Entangled TEEN Series Starter Kit!